Over the past few years, the streaming behemoth Netflix has been investing a lot of time and financial resources into their original programming. From series to stand-up comedy specials to full-length films, Netflix has provided its viewers with a steady stream of new content to keep them busy for quite a while. In this cache of cinematic weaponry, the newest film Netflix has given its viewers is the post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock. This film is somewhat divisive – folks either like it a lot or they don’t like it at all. In my estimation, this film was quite good and I particularly thought Sandra Bullock gave an outstanding performance here. While it is understandable that this would be seen as a mix of A Quiet Place and The Happening, to judge a film based solely on its similarities is not quite fair to the film. Bird Box, on its own terms, gives us an eschatology to wrestle with, while also allowing us to wrestle with other themes such as motherhood, the dehumanization of suffering, and the need for community.
Bird Box chronicles the journey of Malorie (Bullock) and her two children Boy (Julian Edwards) and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) as they journey to a potential safe haven after the fallout of a world devastated by mass suicides caused by the presence of ominous, unseen creatures which have appeared on Earth. Told mostly through flashback sequences while also switching back to present day, the audience is witness to some hard-to-watch moments, as we see several suicides on-screen. Slowly, a group of survivors gathers into a house, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to survive it. We are greeted by a unique cast of characters: the stubborn and bitter Douglas (John Malkovich), whose character was made up for the film and doesn’t exist in the novel; the de-facto leader Tom (Trevante Rhodes); the conspiracy theorist and amateur novelist Charlie (Lil Rel Howery) grandmotherly Cheryl (Jacki Weaver); the rebel Felix (Machine Gun Kelly); Lucy (Rosa Salazar); and Greg (BD Wong), the owner of the home. As the story unfolds, we are also introduced to Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), who is pregnant with her first child (as is Malorie at this point in the story). Much later, we are introduced as well to the “survivor” Gary (Tom Hollander), who supposedly has escaped attack from people who have looked into the eyes of the creatures, which typically causes people to kill themselves, and somehow survived. However, this group, Gary tells the others, has gone completely crazy.
As their time together in the house progresses, Malorie and Olympia form a kinship of sorts over both being expected first-time mothers, with Olympia asking Malorie to take care of her child if anything happens to her, which Malorie reluctantly agrees to do. By the time Gary hits the scene, Felix and Lucy are gone (having stolen the group car in order to escape) and Charlie has died during a resource run to the grocery store he worked at, sacrificing himself so the others could flee. Gary, not too long after his arrival, shows us his cards, so to speak. He isn’t really a survivor, but one of the cult-like insane people who wants everyone to stare at the creatures, as they are going to “cleanse the world.” By the end of the chaos, Gary has murdered Douglas and has forced Olympia and Cheryl to open their eyes, resulting in their suicides. The two remaining survivors are Tom, Malorie, Malorie’s son, and Olympia’s daughter, who she had given birth to not too long before.
Fast forward five years, Tom, Malorie, and the children have all become a family, preparing for the journey to a supposedly safe community of survivors, which is located down the river. With Tom eventually dying via suicide after saving his family from a group of the insane people, Malorie and her children set out on the dangerous journey themselves. Eventually, Malorie discovers, after her and the children nearly die in the river, that this place – this home – is real. It is full of men and women, boys and girls. A lot of them. But how did all these people survive? Because this is a community of blind people. They cannot be affected by the creatures, so they have been able to live in this community and now provide a safe place, a new beginning, for Malorie and her children, whom she ends up naming Tom and Olympia.
While the overall reception of the film and the execution of the film is up for debate, resident within Bird Box we are given an eschatology which envisions a new home as their only hope. Malorie didn’t always know where she was going, insofar as what all the journey would bring her, but instead of allowing herself to be blinded (pun intended) by her circumstances, she kept moving. She knew traveling to this new home was not going to be easy, but it was where she needed to go, where she was supposed to go, even amidst deep uncertainty (such as whether it really existed or if it was even safe). On the journey, she had to confront her own fears – fears of allowing others to help her versus her own self-sufficiency, fears of motherhood and her ability to love.
We also see, in the midst of this suffering, how chaos and trauma can dehumanize others, as she refers to her children as only Boy and Girl, a point Tom brings up in conversation and to which Malorie angrily states is because personalized names are a luxury and not necessary for survival. Maybe this is simply a coping mechanism, having lost so many people already, perhaps naming the children who make them more real in her mind and make it hurt more if they didn’t make it. Regardless, it is only once they reach their new home that they receive a new name, where they can enjoy what home is supposed to be – a place where friends gather, where they play and laugh, where there is acceptance, safety, and the ability to simply take a deep breath and relax for once. Malorie herself didn’t have this kind of home before, but here she found the fulfillment of all home should be. They had been invited to a place where they could flourish, where they didn’t have to be scared anymore, where Malorie could learn to love and not be afraid.
Bird Box may not be a perfect film, but it leaves us with an ability to consider home and, even if we never had one or had a bad one, perhaps – we might ask ourselves – there is a better one, a one which fulfills the hope of a home and actually delivers on its promise.